The view from out there

Marcia Ann Gillespie is editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, the icon of feminist history and culture. We had a wide-ranging discussion with her, beginning with the question of how recent changes in technology and culture are affecting women.

If you had asked me four years ago whether the culture of technology is good or bad for women, I would have said that maybe it's not a good thing. It is so incredibly male centered. But more and more women are embracing the new media and technology.

It's exciting to think about how we can use the new technology for activism. It has already enabled women to communicate across regional and geographic boundaries in ways that weren't possible before. I received E-mail from a woman in Belgrade as the bombs were dropping. That just blows my mind.

I see women's groups organizing online and sharing information with the kind of speed that can make a significant difference. Women activists are getting way smart, way fast. We need to maximize that potential. We women have to find ways to visibly remind ourselves and one another that we have power. We need to act, and we should use the new technology to do that. You can send E-mail to the world saying, "Come on, sister!"

I'm also excited by the ways that technology is being used to bust through class lines. When you open a conversation with people online, you're not first checking their credentials.

When we communicate with readers online, there's an immediacy to be served. We have to be faster, and the articles have to be shorter. Whether you are jumping into a bulletin board or a chat room, you can talk about issues very much in the now in a way magazines traditionally could not do. That shouldn't threaten the print media, not if we're smart.

As the new medium has opened up, it's been a very hungry puppy. There is a need for more and more and more people. It can make you say, "Wait! Will I lose my whole staff?" If it were just about money, most people who work here would not work here. I don't have these bucks to throw around. People work here at Ms. because of a value system. I can't compete on money. I have to therefore hope there is a quality of life here that people value more.

Competitors like iVillage have got all the money in the world. When I look at what they're doing, I see more clearly the need to provide an alternative conversation, one that connects the dots between the political and the personal.

The most disturbing and insidious part of this new technological age is that there's no discussion of how technology can be used for the greater good. We see all this new wealth being created, but there's no concurrent effort to make sure there's a mattress for all people. It's the sneer factor -- this 18th-century idea of blaming the poor for being poor.

I have not done a study to examine whether women are getting their fair share of the new wealth. But I read enough to know that it seems to be going disproportionately to men. My concern about this new wealth is what it does to our value system. Across gender lines, people in this generation will struggle with the push they feel if they're not making a lot of money. It seems we have fallen so deeply in love with the idea that the more bucks you have, the better the human being you are. That's the thing that worries me.

Another problem with the new technology is that it tends to follow the old-line paradigm about how people are supposed to work. We still have the idea that we have to work longer and longer hours, and that we have to be more work focused than in the past. To the extent that women buy into that, it's not good. It's not good for men, either. We need to be re-visioning work, and I'm not talking just about flextime. What's the point of new technology if we think we have to be in our beehives all together? We can be in pods spread all over the place. Why do we assume that the 12 to 14 hours a day we spend in our hives is productive time? -- From an interview with Susan Beck

For more insight on the current state of small business, see The View From Out There.

Please e-mail your comments to